Postdocs say the darnedest things...

May 23 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I recently had a new postdoc tell me that he'd "only be here for no more than 3 years then he'd be off to start his own academic lab" somewhere great like some ivy league institution.  Mind you this is the guy's first postdoc and he is working in a completely new model organism.  So either dood is going to rock out and not sleep for 3 years as he publishes a crazy amount of badass papers or he has no understanding of how much he has ahead of him and how bad the TT job market is right now.

I didn't even know what to say other than, "Well good luck with that."


11 responses so far

  • chall says:

    Funny enough (that means it's not funny at all) I've had a few of these conversations at the conference I'm currently attending (I'm going to write something once I get back to "normal" life and have had some time to digest). It seems to be a slight disconnect between what I think (thought) was 'needed' in order to start your own lab and what other (slightly recent) post docs seem to think is needed in order to be a PI.... it's quite interesting to me at least, partly since some of them has voiced "you stepped off TT so obviously I'm not listening to what you think", partly since some of them might be successful in their endevour based on their lab and their future conquest.

    Most of the time though, I have to confess, I want to respond like you "good luck with that" since my experience and the people I've met have a slightly different outcome... but of course, there are always exceptions.... alas, most of the time I've said something to the effect of "it's never a bad idea to have a plan B.... in case the research doesn't go the way you think... not to mention that 2 years isn't that much of time" And "don't forget to talk to a lot of faculty to get a good idea what it really entails to have your own lab"...

  • drugmonkey says:

    "that's cute"

  • DrDistribution says:

    On the other hand, if you're a postdoc who *doesn't* say something like that when asked about your career plan, then you run the risk of being branded as "not serious about science" so it's kind of a catch-22...heads you win, tails I lose. I'm very realistic about the post-postdoc job market and am keeping my timeline and options very open. Unfortunately, this is not what many people around me want to hear. They DO want me to not sleep for 3 years and crank out a lot of stuff for them and when I try to maintain some sort of sane balance (and I've always been a work hard-play hard high energy person), I hear "you're not going to get that plum TT position unless you give 110% to your work" more often than not. I think most of us know what we're "supposed to say" in certain situations and being honest and forthright is nice in theory but bad in practice, IMHO. I'm keeping up a good front but keeping my own counsel in regards to my future plans.

    • Sadly DrD, I don't this was a front, this was his rock solid plan. And to get the badass TT job a 3 year postdoc seems a bit short to me. During our last round of faculty search for a few new TT positions, no one had less than 5 years of postdoctoral experience.

      3 years is incredibly short especially when you have no experience in this new model organism and not everything has been set up so he can just hit the ground running.

  • Bashir says:

    I'm pretty sure I said something like that when I started graduate school. The question is will he adjust when it becomes clear that his original goal isn't going to happen, or will he be in denial about it. Nothing wrong with borderline unrealistic goals if they motivated you and you're open to adjusting expectations later.

  • Nat says:


  • Dr Becca says:

    I like DrugMonkey's response.

    Everyone thinks they're the exception, and that people who take 5+ years to land a TT job just aren't brilliant enough. I knew a grad student once who felt confident she could land a K99 R00 her first year as a post-doc, and then she would just shoot through to her TT job right after that. My pointing out that K99 applications are judged in part by the work you do AS a postdoc was completely shrugged off.

  • Namnezia says:

    It's not that unheard of. It might take a year or two more than what he plans, but so what. In our recent job searches most of the candidates that make the shortlist are 4-5 years into their first postdoc.

    I think if you are lucky enough to get good pubs early in your postdoc, you will benefit by going on the job market sooner rather than later. I think.

  • gerty-z says:

    hahahaha. yes, indeed. Good luck with that.

  • 3 years is incredibly short especially when you have no experience in this new model organism and not everything has been set up so he can just hit the ground running.

    I was two years into my post-doc, when I approached my mentor with the idea that we would try a crazy idea in a model organism neither of us had ever had any experience with at all. I got some help from another faculty member in our department, and the idea worked beyond our wildest dreams. Three years later, I was starting my own lab leveraging off that crazy idea and using that model organism, and my mentor was earning tenure on the basis of that work as well. Both our labs still do a lot using that model organism.

  • Your dept pal on twitter says:

    New postdoc in my lab also thinks the same - 3 years, 2-3 'good' (whatever that means!) papers and PI position (abroad).

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